Henry Otunge

Henry Otunge


From: Korogocho, Nairobi

Interview date & place: 5 April 2016, Nairobi

Interviewed by: Joseph Kimani & Kate Lines

Original language: English

I'm Henry Onyango Otunge . I'm from Korogocho, that is one of the slum areas within Nairobi. In Korogocho I belong to a group called Balisa Maisa Savings Scheme. And in Balisa Savings Scheme I hold the capacity of the secretary of the group and at the same time I'm saver number 4.

What motivates you?

My profession, out of Muungano, out of federation, I'm a businessman. Through my business that I started earlier, before Muungano, has changed my name from Henry Onyango Otunge to ‘Happy Man’. If you go to the place where I am staying in Korogocho, even if you ask a small guy, ‘do you know Happy Man, where he is staying?’, you will get me.

I'm really motivated, if any member of the community asks me something as concerns community development. Because, whatever I did within the federation, I was driven to the status of community development status, and that is what I do.

When you have undergone school and you have known how to read and write, it is not for your father or mother that has made you to do that, it is for the community that you have done that. When you are going to the school, the community were praying for you not to be harmed so that you come out like somebody to help the community. So if you are working, if you are doing something for the benefit of the community, you are giving back to the community. What have you done to your community that can prove that you were with the community, who are with you from the day you were born up to the death?

How did you first get involved in Muungano?

Members of the SDI from South Africa and even some of the members from the Muungano federation – mostly they were coming from Huruma – mobilized us and told us there is something called Muungano. They introduced us to the saving system of the Muungano system. We had some challenges of registering, but it was very fortunate that by then Pamoja Trust, the NGO who was supporting the federation by then ... So Selma was one of the COs that were working on the ground. So she was coming frequently and urged us to start doing the saving. And by then we were doing the saving as a daily saving. So at the end of that year, we had already registered Balisa Maisa savings group and we had the officials, we had by then 22 people.

We were told that we have to form the network within that area, so when we went to the network we found that other groups were also involved in the Muungano system, so we had five groups that gathered as the network – the year 2006.

After that, then we had to mobilize more groups and it happened in Korogocho by then we had 21 groups that was functioning well, doing the savings, the daily savings, and everything was going on well.

What were things like, back when you joined Muungano?

We joined Muungano in the year 1996. What we were doing mostly was advocating for land, because by then we had so many problems. When you want to put even a structure or a small thing within a place where you are staying so that you can get an earning there, then you are being resisted by the local authorities.

So we had to advocate in so many ways in so many places. We went as far as going to other areas like Kahawa Soweto and Kamae. By then the land was there, the land in Kamae – it is just next to Kenyatta University – that land was having a very big problem and there was always a fracas. People were being dragged by some land grabbers. So we had to go there and defend our members from being grabbed. But unfortunately when we were doing those kind of exercises, one of the members was killed, when we what trying to advocate for that land. We were not using any tool, but we were just using our voices. We were making noise. We could run here and there saying whatever we can say about somebody, so that he will leave us in peace. So in fact we were doing this, when we went there, the lady was gunned down by one of the policemen. Then, in fact, it took us time to think what we could do. We had to take the body from the mortuary and we took it up to the provincial commissioner's office – and that is part of the advocacy we were doing.

I think it was the year 2001 when the president – the former President Daniel Arap Moi – was just passing around there. He was doing his normal functions of visiting people. When he passed there, he just decided to stop abruptly at Korogocho and said, ‘the people of Korogocho, today from today I've given you this land’. And everybody was very happy because all these things – even if the president said that – advocacy that we did as the federation , that is what brought everything in order so that the president could manage to get the members of Korogocho being sustainable. Otherwise, there was so many people who were writing letters and doing everything, telling us that we should move from there because the land doesn't belong to us.

Who have been Muungano’s civil society supporters? How has the role changed over time?

Korogocho is whereby we were having one of the Catholic leaders, Father Alex. This Father Alex played a very important role in the federation of Muungano. Because that Father Alex is the one who introduced people towards this Muungano federation. This Father Alex is the one who was trying to change the lives of people staying within Korogocho. You can meet so many people within Korogocho, who are coming from Korogocho, driving big cars because of Father Alex. Not anybody else.

He was a Father at the St. John's Catholic Church. He was somebody who was a bit short. He liked talking in a joking way; he can always joke with you, whether he knows you or not he will joke with you. But what was very funny with Father Alex, if you see him today, then even after 10 years he will still recognize you, even your name. He was having a very good memory, but he was an old man. He liked to carry a rucksack at his back, you could not meet Father Alex without a rucksack. Even at night he could walk, he was not even using a vehicle within that area. He was walking all the day and night, even if it is at night at around midnight Father Alex could serve you, just walking within, around. And you know, with the slum areas it is very risky and so many things do happen. But Father Alex was not that very much coward. He was very brave and he was very sure of what he was trying to do within Korogocho.

The only change that Father Alex was after is for the community members to own the particular land they are staying on. And Father Alex came with it very clear that since we don't own – the land belongs to the government – we have to struggle to own that land. Because he was trying to tell us that, you know, this land it doesn't belong: somebody should not claim that he's a landlord and what-have-you. The land belongs to everybody here, because whoever is staying here is the owner of this land.

When Father Alex introduced us to the federation, you know we have the well-wishers and we have somebody who can just do something for the sake of doing it. By the time we were introduced to the NGO that is Pamoja Trust, we were working with the people from a law society firm. One of these people, that is Jane Weru, she is the one who showed the commitment that instead of working in this firm I should work with these poor people. And she became the first director [of Pamoja Trust]. All that time we worked together, as partners, what I realized from her is quite different from so many people that I have been seeing with in the slum areas. Because NGOs are working in our slum areas and we do see them. You see somebody coming to the slum area, telling you ‘let us do this and this’; the next time, you will see them with a very big car. But I've never seen Jane with a big car. See, this proves to me or give me that mentality, that she's having that willing heart to work with somebody whether he or she is having or not. And I think that is why she has been working with the federation members up to this moment. Because she is still there. You know, in our slum areas we do work with different NGOs when they come, but you know they seem to be so much special than us. But with her, she is very simple even the clothes she is putting on. So I think that kind of simplicity made her to successfully maintain the federation.

Pamoja Trust was formed so that it can support the federation members. You know, these people are coming from slum areas and maybe there were some technical knowledge that they could not access or they didn't know. So Pamoja Trust was having that kind of technical team that can advise. Because everything we were doing on our own, but Pamoja Trust as the NGO members, they can be behind us. Also they were there at least to make sure that they put all our resources together, in order. So that when we needed them we get them also in order. Like financial status: if we are being supported by SDI, the money is there if maybe something that can do a certain kind of activity. If maybe we are from slums and we get that money, maybe when we are on a round table, you know sometimes we might think of at least slicing part of it to use first. But that is why you find the NGO is coming in, so that they regulate whatever resource is available within that federation. You know, Pamoja Trust and other NGOs that we have been working with as federation members, by the time they are coaching, giving us those opportunities or they are doing for us these things, also we are learning and we are gaining that kind of confidence among ourselves. Because that is their work: to make sure that we are confident with one another, we trust one another. We need to trust one another.

We had gone through a process under Pamoja Trust for a long period, when we tried to disengage the partnership. Because we were seeing that at least we have part of the knowledge that we can sustain a bit of ourselves, so that we do not need a lot of staff. Because when you have a lot of staff, while almost everything you are to the percentage of knowing everything, then it needs you have to reduce the staff or you have to work on your own. We thought it wise that at least we should work on our own, but we should have a few people that we use – we work with – not as partner NGO, but as a technical team that advise us on a certain process. When we were moving from Pamoja Trust, we had to take some few staff, so that we continue with the way we wanted – that was our motive. Even we tried to make ourselves in order, so that we organized ourselves; we did the election and everything. But by the time we did this, there were some of us who were having some different motives, so it became two federations working with different people.

According to SDI – even up to this moment – they do not want to hear about somebody called NGO. This is a technical team: it's serving us for a certain period or it's working with us, but they had also limited the number of people that are supposed to work with the federation, unless there is a lot of work to be done. So you see, this group that is here, they are the ones that followed the best procedure, because the structure that is being used in Kenya it is the structure being used in Uganda, in other countries, and that is the structure of the SDI, Slum Dwellers International.

Experiences in profiling and enumerations

The year 2000, we had to carry an enumeration exercise in Korogocho. That was the first enumeration that was carried out through the SDI family from outside [Kenya] and Muungano. So we had to carry the exercise of the enumeration so that we understand the real picture of Korogocho. Se when we had the enumeration exercise, that enumeration came out with even more groups, it came out with even more members – we mobilized even more members through that enumeration exercise. We had the information of the settlement how it is, the different zones how they are, how they are subdivided, the number of people staying, the number of structures and so forth, the services that are within. So, we managed to capture all this.

By that time is when we even managed to get some few members that, within a period of time, became the leaders of Muungano – and that was the late Benson Osumba. He was mobilized within that enumeration exercise, and he was one of the enumerators.

Osumba Benson, he was somebody very much polite. By then he was just from school when we got hold of him and we told him, ‘you know, this enumeration is done with somebody least who can write and read’. So he was having that opportunity of getting the exercise. But he was very much afraid, because those who are doing the exercise were a bit older people. He was somebody who was young but had a huge body with a very big voice, but he was not talking too much.

When we were doing those kinds of advocacy, we were just doing them verbally, and when we tell them ‘we are the ones who are staying here, so many people are staying here’, they could ask us ‘how many people?’ We could not answer that question. And when we were asked that question we started looking at one another. So it was a very difficult situation. Then, we had to start with the enumeration, and that's why we did it in Korogocho. We managed in Korogocho, we managed to challenge the government about Korogocho. And even at the moment, the Korogocho upgrading has started. But it is good they are just using what the Muungano did – all the exercise of enumeration that Muungano did.

After doing the enumeration of Korogocho, I became one of the enumeration team leaders of the federation, because I was good at doing the enumeration exercise. So we had a team that had to work on enumeration for the federation, and the first enumeration that we did perfectly, without any doubt that now we understand enumeration, was in the year 2002. We did it in Dagoretti, we had to do it the whole of Dagoretti.

From there is whereby we had to introduce enumeration in Uganda. By that time is when we introduced even the federation movement in Uganda. We are the ones who introduced the federation in Uganda, whereby they are now doing it very well.

And after that, the exercise of enumeration, because we were seeing that it is a tool that gives the real picture of the settlement, and the government also recommended as per the exercise, so we had to expand the enumeration exercise to various places. We had to go to Kisumu and do the enumeration in Kisumu. We did every settlement in Kisumu, and everything was okay, and all the information of the outcome of the enumeration we are having in our docket of the federation. And in case of anything – we want to do advocacy, we want to look for what – our time is now just to go and do the verification, so that we make sure that, whatever the information we got there before, is it still there? Or the house that was there is demolished? Or there was no house there and now there is a house there. So that we verify. And then the development starts from there. We do not do another enumeration unless there is need.

After introducing the federation in Kisumu, we had a group that picked up from the [Erickson] Sunday group – it was called Oboch savings scheme. It was only one group. Because we were working together as slum dwellers, we had to go and help Kisumu to mobilize more saving groups, more settlements to join Muungano. So we had done all that, and we managed to capture five settlements that savings groups were started. So when we started all these groups, each settlement was having one group. So they picked up, they start the federation, they started to advocate for the land. By then Kisumu was having a lot of problems of land grabbing and even threat of evictions. After that, we had to carry the enumeration in Kisumu. And the enumeration in Kisumu made the Kisumu have a very big change. Because we were working with the city planners of Kisumu, they were very much cooperative, and, when we were doing the enumeration, everything we were reporting to them, and they were also coming to our meetings. And for all those things that we identified, like water and sanitation, there are some things, some water, that are being put in various slum areas in Kisumu because of those federation members or the enumeration that was carried out.

I've been in that enumeration team since that year we did in Korogocho up to now. As the time moved, we have been doing so many things within that docket of enumeration.

Enumeration consists of profiling. Enumeration consists of data production, we produce the data. Enumeration consists of inventory. Inventory is more or less trying to get the history of the place, like the way we are now getting the history of the Muungano.

What have been Muungano’s biggest achievements over the years?

What we really achieved: we had silenced the government. Whatever they were doing in the slum areas, we silenced the land grabbers. Because we have enough papers to show that this land is not yours, to show that this land belongs to such and such a person. And we can be able to talk to that person so we can sustain to be there for a period of time that we will agree. And that was a very big threat that made us to form Muungano.

Before the year 2000, you could not miss any news from the TV or radio broadcast talking about threat of eviction, or somebody evicted, or people evicted, or somebody's house has burnt somewhere. By that time, we were doing the advocacy – we were even throwing stones at the police. And even when they killed one of us, it was also criminal – so both of us were wrong! But nowadays, after doing all this information, getting all this information, and having that capacity of the advocacy, we can now go and search for the right person that is doing whatever is against us. We sit with him down or her. If it is what kind of office, we can be able to knock that office, enter, and present our problem. In case they do not understand us, then we will do a demonstration which does not harm anybody. And those are the things that have changed now. We can come, we can go and talk, we can talk with even the Minister of Land. They took us as if we were not human beings within the places we were staying. So there is a very big change. And even we are expecting more changes, because you find that some changes that we are doing as Muungano federation, the government are adopting all these changes and they are working with them.

We had to do the profiling in Nairobi as a whole. And profiling, it involves a lot of things: where toilets are, the services, where we dump things, places where we can get water, and so forth. So when the government realised that we have that kind of information, they used the information to take the National Youth Service to the ground to work. What they did was just to verify if the information is correct, and they found that we were excellently okay. They used the information and we are very proud of that. In fact, for me personally, they should be paying or something, because they are using our sweat. When we are walking within those areas searching for those information or doing that research, we are doing a very important thing that can be done with somebody from university, while they didn't pay for our university that we are doing on the ground. And they are using the information that we are having. It is good for somebody, if you use somebody's documents, it is good to at least to give back, so that that person will be motivated.

What have been Muungano’s biggest challenges over the years?

The biggest challenge over the years is that most of the people staying in slum areas, they do not understand Muungano properly. They understand Muungano as an NGO, while Muungano is a federation. And a federation is a process whereby in the long run you'll get something, but not, ‘you do for to get’. ‘You do to get’ is for NGOs, because with NGOs they will give you something to do even in that area; they pay, they give you something like transport or lunch, you finish up with them, you will never see him again or her, and whatever he or she is going to do with that thing you will not know. But the process of the federation, they will go to the ground, they will do something, they will process it, and that thing will be sustainable, whereby it can be used in some years to come. And in some years to come people are not able to wait. If you tell somebody, ‘okay, form the groups; after forming the groups do 1, 2, 3, we will assist you to access such kind of development within that area of yours’ – they will accept, but they will form the group and the next week they will ask you for the development, even [if] the group is not already registered, they have saved even for one week only. They need the development: if you do not give them any kind of development or involve them on anything, then they will disappear. And that is the biggest problem with the federation. And for the federation to grow it must have more members, as many as possible. But, the problem is that people do not understand that it is a process.

What have been the strategies that really worked?

We used the strategy of savings, and now I can point somewhere that it belongs to me, and that's is Katani.

Within the projects that Muungano is having I'm one of the project beneficiaries whereby we are buying a land in Katani. The process is on. Some of the houses are there, but there are some people who are still at the level of paying for the land. Katani, it is called a greenfield. You find that in those areas where we are staying, people are becoming even more populated, densely populated, and you find that, by the time we started Muungano, now 20 years, people who started Muungano they are serving even their grandsons and granddaughters. So where are you going to put these other people in case you are given that piece of land to develop? So we thought of a greenfield, whereby those who are staying even in the private lands and they are in the federation, at least they should benefit something. So like us, we are the ones that are falling under that category, whereby by the place we are staying is already for somebody, it is a private land. The greenfield is not within that particular area, but it is a bit far from the place we are staying.

Whether it is having so many problems, problem is to human beings and we will solve all of those problems. We are the problem; we are the solution. But, I have something that I can say through my small small savings that I've been doing from the year 1996 up to this moment, I can point to this one.

What didn’t work? What did you learn?

Something which was introduced in Muungano that didn't put a step, and this is the Muungano Development Fund. This Muungano Development Fund was a very good strategy for the Muungano members to do the sustainability in terms of business livelihood. It was a meeting held in India and they came out with livelihood. And this livelihood it was, for Muungano, all members, to contribute towards that livelihood and then they get the loans. But, in fact, since whatever goes with money, people put a lot of interest – and a lot of interest with a lot of internal ambitions. Because, he will say, ‘I want to save so that I buy a plot’; while me, ‘I want to buy a car’. We have different ambitions. While the other person says, ‘if this money reaches somewhere then I collect the signatories, and we go and dash with the money’, that is also another strategy.

So when all this was started in different zones – that is the counties, or the regions before as they were called – but you find that when it was started, some people were having some different capacity of thinking on this. They were not thinking about the development of Muungano. ‘We are far from 1996 up to that moment’. They really kept that one in the drawer, so that they put the money at the forehead. When they were talking about this money, even the savings that would being done in the savings group, nobody was doing the saving. Even if you called people to do something, people will not responding.

And that is whereby we got to lose a bit of the direction of the Muungano, because people were taking money and they were not giving back the money according to the process. The process was you take the loan and you repay. In the long run, we had some cases whereby the loans were allocated to people – the big loans, livelihood loans – but these people took the advantage of using the big loans to disappear without giving them to members. We had also that kind of problem. Because when people heard that Muungano is giving people money at a cheapest interest so far than any microfinance or any bank can give, people came from various areas not slum areas pretending that they are slum members, that they are slum area members. So, those who were recruiting had at least to engage even unwanted people. So all this made Muungano to lose value, because we were dealing with people living in slum areas.

It happened that so many people were from other areas that are not in slums, and they disrupted Muungano. Because with us, we were used to taking a loan of 10,000, 20,000, where somebody is telling you, ‘that is not money, I need one million, I need 500,000’. So he or she could put a very big amount there in order to get that; after getting that, because there was corruption within those who were giving the loans as members of the federation, community members that were working in various county levels, so they had to give all these loans when they favour that kind of friendship or they want to disappear with the money in another way altogether. So the money disappeared and everybody disappeared. Those who were having good faith in Muungano said ‘Muungano are thieves’. Those who came, new members, said, ‘Muungano are thieves’. That was the biggest challenge that we had in Muungano.

Another challenge that we are facing in Muungano, and we are on the solution process, is that we had been having Muungano projects. And these Muungano projects, we put a lot of money on them, but [along] the way, members of the federation changed their motives. Because when we are starting the project, we start it at the mashinani ground – that is the grassroots level – whereby we go to the members of the grassroots level, those who were staying there. But bit by bit, within a period of some months, things do change. Those that are streamlining all the community, that are guiding people there, you find that one or two people are having different ideas and they convince one another, so that they recruit people who are not from that slum area and then they invade. Those who are not coming from those areas, they tried to invade the project, so that they overpower – since they have money, they tend to overpower the others. So that the project now changes the motive of the federation. So when it comes to some kind of meetings to resolve the problems, it becomes a bit difficult and people do disagree. We have the Mukuru project whereby a place called Sisal within Mukuru area – Sisal is a settlement – whereby Muungano invested to buy land for those people who are staying in Mukuru. By the time we were starting this, they were partially from Mukuru Sisal. Even out of Sisal, no, they were from Sisal. And I was one of the people who enumerated those people. The group that started there, I know them, how they started. But later on, after knowing that this land is a prime land and Muungano has just bought it, they tried to put Muungano aside to own this land by themselves. They tried to get people from other areas; some people were coming even out of Nairobi, coming, driving, bringing money so that they complete the loan that they were given by the federation. After completing this loan, they claimed that the land is theirs, they have the right to do anything. So they had changed the motive of the federation.

Muungano is a process, whereby you do the process step by step until you get whatever you need. And when you are getting whatever you need, you are getting it to the last percentage – that is, a hundred percent. You cannot get it half way. But if you incomplete it with some other things, then it becomes a chaotic problem. And that is why we are having that chaotic problem in Mukuru. Sometimes they fight one another, sometimes they do so many things. They had even conned so many people as per that land. They have the documents, some documents that can prove that the land is theirs. Then they show you, you give money, they buy their car, you go away. That is the business. So is that what we call the Muungano?

What are your hopes for Muungano’s next 20 years?

Muungano is there to stay, whether I'm there or not. We have to motivate the youngsters to come in. You know that information is power. Things are changing to digital: if they can manage to change the information to digitalized institutions like radio production, so that everything that happens in Kenya they announce it on their radio FM station, that one, even if I'm at home and I hear their voices then I'll be very much happy because everything will be heard from everywhere.

Also, [I would like to see] a learning process for the slum-dwellers – the kind of institution that at least brings somebody from whatever he or she has reached to another level. Me, my [school] grade is up to form 4, but whatever I'm doing in Muungano is up to university. I can train somebody to know something like somebody who had gone to university. You find somebody, a planner, somebody from University of Nairobi, from any kind of university. When they join the Muungano to work, we have to take them under the process, and we find that we are teaching them; they are not teaching us, we are the ones who are teaching them. I see Muungano as a learning institution.